Blades carve out slice of server market

Thin servers are featuring prominantly as server sales are shifting toward smaller, denser units as shipments slow down, according to new figures from IDC.

Server sales are shifting toward smaller, denser units as shipments slow down, according to new figures from IDC.

Until the current slowdown, server sales were growing by double-digit figures, but growth stalled in the second quarter and sales were flat, IDC representatives said.

Compaq Computer regained its wide margin of leadership as its market share grew from 26 percent to 28 percent, IDC's preliminary figures showed. That represents 253,629 servers shipped in the category of $25,000 or less, said Mark Melenovsky, IDC's director of server research.

Dell Computer's shipments moved up a notch from 18 percent in the first quarter to 19 percent in the second, reflecting 172,784 units shipped. IBM was third with 13 percent, little changed at 112,794 units. And Hewlett-Packard was fourth with 10 percent, or 87,236 units, also little changed, Melenovsky said.

Inexpensive rack mount units, known as thin servers, now make up roughly 40 percent of total shipments, he said. Thin servers fit into a rack with 42 slots, each about 1.75-inch high. The units are popular in crowded data centers and colocation sites, where service providers squeeze in as many servers as possible.

Even denser than the thin server is a new class that Melenovsky anticipates will assume a larger share of future shipments - the blade configuration. Blades typically have no individual disk drives, using network-attached storage as a substitute. They will come initially from startups OmniCluster Technologies, Racemi and RLX Technologies.

"I've seen projections that 15 [percent] to 20 percent of servers will go in this direction," said Chris Fleck, CEO of OmniCluster, which makes $499 blade servers using National Semiconductor's 300-megahertz Geode chips. OmniCluster blades fit into the PCI slots of other servers.

RLX Technologies uses Transmeta's energy-saving Crusoe chip that requires only 15 watts per blade. RLX packs 24 servers into a three-slot space on a rack. Clustering blades running Linux "gives a better price performance than a large server," said Mike Swavely, the company's president.

The Cadillac of the bunch, Racemi, loads five blades, each with a 1-gigahertz Pentium III, into one slot of a rack. The five-processor unit requires 70 watts per blade and is priced at $10,000, said Paul Freet, Racemi's co-founder and CEO.